Adam Wray: The first time you came to Tokyo you were working on your thesis, right?
W. David Marx: No, the first time I came was in 1998. I got this internship at Kodansha, the publisher. They threw me in a bunch of editorial offices, and one of them did these two fashion magazines: Hot Dog Press, which was more of a lifestyle magazine like Popeye, and Checkmate, which was pure fashion. Neither of them exist anymore. I didn’t know anything about fashion. I was a typical arrogant American living in the South, growing up on MTV, thinking that America is the coolest country in the entire world. Like, communism fell because people wanted Michael Jackson and blue jeans! Then going to Tokyo and being at these fashion magazines, it was like, “Where did this come from?” The level of style in the streets was so high compared to anything in the U.S.
What sort of intern stuff did they have you doing?
When I was at Hot Dog, they had nothing for me to do, so I would just take back issues of the magazine and go through them. I saw this t-shirt that had the Planet of the Apes face on it. Someone told me the brand had just reopened their store. I went that afternoon and they literally had someone sitting outside with a velvet rope who said, “You can’t come in.” It was Nowhere, A Bathing Ape’s store. Which I knew nothing about, almost no one knew anything about outside Japan at that point. I went back the next day and waited an hour in the August sun with all these kids, and then there was another hour line inside the store. The way they sold t-shirts, they had a rack with one of each version, and you would have to get one, take it up, and they would get you one from the back. So, if everyone wanted the same shirt, they had to wait for it to come back to the floor. The woman bringing the shirts back would just get mobbed. It was either a really stupid system or it was intentionally brilliant, slowing down retail. By the time I left the store it had taken three hours. In 1998, in the U.S., there was absolutely no parallel to it. Just up the street on Takeshita-dori there was this flea market where people would sell “vintage” A Bathing Ape and Goodenough t-shirts from the year before. Literally the versions from the year before going for $300. It was the first time I’d seen a $300 t-shirt. When you have no context for it, it seems insane. I went back to college and spoke to a professor about it, and he said, “Well, there’s your thesis.” So, I came back to Kodansha and read every single issue of Hot Dog from the period that A Bathing Ape existed, tried to identify when the brand showed up on the radar, and interviewed a bunch of people.
Then I came to do my Master’s in Tokyo on the Japanese music industry, so I actually moved here in 2003. Honestly, when I came back in 2003, it wasn’t that interesting of a time for Japanese fashion. It was kind of the end for streetwear, but it was before BAPE got big in the U.S.